The Observant Writer..... adaptations for film
Are adaptations easier than regular screenplays? Believe it or not, I found a fantastic book in a bargain bin and it would make a terrific screenplay. Adaptations are to screenplays as unicycles are to bicycling. The vehicles have similar characteristics, but it also takes a rare set of skills to master the unicycle with any panache. Ditto adaptations. A couple of great adaptations you should READ and then watch is ‘WIT’, (Emma Thompson writer) and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ (Fran Walsh ect)
Here’s some quick pros & cons. PRO: You don’t have to make up the story - it’s all there. CON: In fact, that’s the rub with adaptations, especially from novels. There’s often TOO MUCH story. Novels sprawl, like Mexico City they take up an infinite amount of room, just because they can. Especially some of the genre novels, like family sagas or historical fiction (Ken Follet - World Without End almost was). It’s practically genetic that these stories top 500 pages. Whereas, screenplays are more like Venice – they have to be self-contained and restricted to a very particular area because of limitations put on their size.
PRO: Producers often like the idea of adaptations because they feel the book or play brings with it an automatic audience and it’s popularity is a harbinger for the film’s eventual success. CON: If you loved the book and thought it would make a great screenplay - there’s a chance other screenwriters thought so too. If you’re talking about a best seller, the rights will NOT be easy to acquire. Some agent is going to want some serious coinage for the rights to a best seller or even a mediocre seller if it comes from a big publisher.
What about the rights? Well, I always advise, WRITE WHAT YOU LOVE. So if you are deeply, deeply smitten -- then break the story down, make your choices and start writing. I also say, ‘No writing experience is ever wasted.” At least you will learn just how challenging in it’s own way an adaptation can be for a screenwriter. At the very least by the end of it, you’ll have a ‘spec’ adaptation for your portfolio. But beware, on the way to completion if you fall madly, madly in love with your adaptation and cannot live unless you acquire the rights to your bestseller - well, here’s hoping you win the lotto. Because sadly, without the rights no producer will come near it.
Hope that's useful…. And best of luck with adaptation - Wordsmythe is here to help!